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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Earthsky Tonight—June 2: Little Dipper, Clipped wings of Draco the Dragon

Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science

The Little Dipper is an asterism – a star pattern that is not a constellation. The Little Dipper really belongs to the constellation Ursa Minor the Little Bear.

Richard Hinkley Allen in his book STAR NAMES Their Lore and Meaning claims the Greek constellation Ursa Minor was never mentioned in the literary works of Homer (9th century B.C.) or Hesiod (8th century B.C.). That is probably because this constellation was not around at that time.

According to the Greek geographer and historian Strabo (63 B.C. to A.D. 21?) these seven stars did not make up Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) until 600 B.C. or so. Before that time, this group of stars outlined the wings of the constellation Draco the Dragon.

When the seafaring Phoenicians visited the Greek philosopher Thales around 600 B.C., they showed him how to navigate by the stars. Purportedly, Thales clipped the Dragon’s wings to create a new constellation, possibly because this new way of looking at the stars enabled Greek sailors to more easily locate the north celestial pole.

In our day, Polaris closely marks the north celestial pole in the sky. However, the stars Kochab and Pherkad more closely marked the position of the north celestial pole in 600 B.C.


See Draco the Dragon, and a former pole star

Written by Bruce McClure

Astronomy Picture of the Day from NASA/JPL

CHANDRA Photo Album

U.S. Naval Observator Astronomical Information center

StarDate Online

Sky and Telescope

National Geographic

Space Com

Amazing Space

The York County Astronomical Society

Scope City

James S McDonnell Planetarium

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